Not enough mammograms in Utah

Nov 9 2012 - 12:50am

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has the second-lowest screening rates for breast cancer in the nation, and the Utah Department of Health wants to know why.

On Thursday, the UDOH Cancer Control Program hosted its first Utah Mammography Action Summit to address why women are not getting screened.

"Utah has been at the bottom in the nation for years when it comes to breast cancer screening," said Lynne Nilson, program manager for the breast and cervical cancer screening program for UDOH. "We are holding this summit to try and figure out why we are so low and what we can do about it."

The daylong summit included health system experts, community leaders and nonprofit organization representatives who came together to map out a plan to increase the number of mammograms for Utah women, Nilson said.

The event was at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center. One of the goals was to join efforts to overcome barriers that keep women from getting screened.

"There are a lot of reasons, but some of the main reasons include not having time, cost, no insurance, and women saying they don't need the test because they have no family history of breast cancer," Nilson said. "I would like to clear up that myth right now, because 75 to 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history."

Nilson said the sooner breast cancer is caught, the more chance a woman has of surviving.

"If you catch it in its earliest stages, there is almost a 100 percent chance you're going to be alive in five years," she said.

Breast cancer will affect one in every eight women in the nation, Nilson said. By getting mammograms, breast cancer can be found early.

Christi Layton, manager of McKay-Dee Hospital's imaging in the mammography department, said The American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society recommend screening mammograms beginning at the age of 40 and every year after that. If there is a direct family history, screening should begin 10 years earlier than the age of the family member at diagnosis.

"So if your mother was diagnosed at the age of 45, then you would begin at the age of 35," she said. "Breast cancer can occur at any age, but is most likely found after the age of 40. By performing a breast self-exam you are completing one part of a three-part process in your breast health. The other two parts include having a breast exam by your physician and then a mammogram."

Layton said Utah's low screening rates are a mystery, especially because so many women in the state are highly educated.

"Normally, the better the education, usually, the higher the screening rates are for the state, so by having such a low rate, there must be some other concerns women have," she said. "We as mammographers know the exam can be embarrassing, and we do our best to keep our patients as covered as we can during the mammogram itself. Most of us have mammograms too, so we know what all women go through when they have one."

Layton also said there has been concern of having extreme pain during the exam, but, she said, most women who have the exam say they are surprised at how easy, fast and painless it really is.

"The entire time spent in compression is less than one minute," Layton said. "As mammographers, we also chat with our patients during the exams, and this distracts them."

Layton said it's important to become familiar with your breast tissue by performing a self-exam once a month. Check for lumps, thickness and other changes. Pain in one specific area and nipple discharge that is clear or bloody are all signs of concern.

"By the time you can feel something in your breast, the mass can be harder to manage because it is cancerous," she said. "If you feel a lump of any sort that is new to you, it's best to see your physician right away."

At the end of the summit, Nilson said UDOH will compile information and follow up with those who attended.

"We will also develop an action plan for everyone to take back to their areas, and we will do everything to keep the message alive," she said. "This will not be a one-time conversation. We will keep this momentum going."

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